If you’re not me, you probably just barely remember Bastille from middle school when their original doomer hit “Pompeii,” an upbeat pop-rock jam from the POV of a victim of Mount Vesuvius, took radio by storm. You might also know the band from “Happier,” their Marshmello collab, and its video where Miranda Cosgrove’s hair is crimped to high hell and then her dog dies.
Aside from the weird dead dog pitstop – seriously, whose idea was that? – Bastille’s music has always dealt with themes of nostalgia, apocalypse and the choice between optimism and nihilism. Their fourth album, Give Me The Future, is no exception. While the band’s previous work has faced these themes head-on, GMTF turns a blind eye to the crumbling world around us. A vocoded utopia of virtual reality, the album offers a chance to dance the night away and pretend everything’s alright.
The album starts off with three track highlights in a row. The lead single “Distorted Light Beam” is a synth-heavy virtual reality adventure akin to Ready Player One or Sword Art Online. With powerful vocals and a strong bassline, it makes me feel like I just beat a level of my favorite video game on expert mode. The lyrics just enrich the fantasy: fuck yeah, Dan from Bastille, I am levelin’ up!
“Thelma + Louise” is a spontaneous burst of pounding drums and rich, velvety vocals that reinforce the central question: “Can you hear the sound of my heart exploding?” The track suffers from a short runtime of just over two minutes, and I wish the outro would’ve led into a bridge instead. But all I have to do is hit replay and wait for the song’s final euphoric cry to play one more time: “And suddenly we’re Thelma and Louise / You said, ‘Let’s get the hell right out of here!’”
“No Bad Days” slows down the momentum a bit to envision a digital afterlife. While it’s a bit morbid, the beat propels the song forward like the march of life. Making a strong first impression, it’s no wonder the first three songs were all promoted as singles ahead of the album’s release.
Unfortunately, the issues I found in “Thelma + Louise” seem to be the rule rather than the exception. Despite boasting a 13-song tracklist, Give Me The Future is pockmarked by interludes and only runs 32:20, making it Bastille’s shortest album by eight minutes. And while the music videos present a somewhat consistent storyline about virtual reality, GMTF struggles to define its vision.
Is the album about that virtual world displayed in the music videos, a literal escape from the nihilism of daily life? Is it about logging off entirely and living in the moment? Is it about whatever’s going on in the spoken word poem interlude “Promises,” which doesn’t feature any of the actual members of Bastille? It’s clearly about, well, the future, considering three separate song titles contain the word itself, but is the album warning us about the future or inviting us into it?
Either way, the future that GMTF attempts to create is inconsistent at best and self-contradictory at worst.
As a longtime Bastille fan, I’ve noticed a trend in their albums. While their first two records – Bad Blood (2013) and Wild World (2016) – were full of cleverly introspective and insightful lines, there was a noticeable drop in the quality of lyricism in their third album, Doom Days (2019), a concept album in which each song represents a different time on the clock as you ride out an apocalyptic night. If you want an example of the declining quality in songwriting, take the title track, “Doom Days.”
The song, which takes place at 3:07 am within the album’s concept, is about watching the world burn down around you. As lead singer Dan Smith hurriedly moves from climate change denial to political echo chambers, it feels like the world is completely and utterly fucked. Totally understandable. Been there.
And then, just as the song – the entire album, even – climaxes with an emotional call to live in the moment, to stare down the end of the world, Bastille ends with this declaration: “So I put my phone down / Fall into the night with you.”
Well. If that isn’t the most jarringly out-of-place lyric I’ve ever heard. Just put yer phone down, kids!
All of that is to say, GMTF doesn’t manage to buck the trend. Take the track “Plug In…” which features lines such as “Maybe A.I. is the messiah” and “Bunch of old white men who don’t give a fuck.” Bastille is a band comprised of four white men, so take that #superwoke line as you will. (Granted, I am also just some white guy.) Later on, “Stay Awake?” includes this absolute banger (ha!) of a line: “Cyber love / In an anxious age / Lord above / Need to get me laid.”
I’m not saying this album is poorly written as a whole. There are some genuinely cool lines sprinkled throughout that elevate the better tracks, but the quality of the songwriting is inconsistent and contributes to the album’s overall lack of identity.
I’ve ragged on Give Me The Future enough. Despite its flaws, I do genuinely enjoy it. Synthy dance-pop was not a direction I ever expected Bastille to take, so I was pleasantly surprised when they released “Distorted Light Beam.” While the album may not hold up to the band’s older work in terms of lyricism or consistency, it really doesn’t need to – or even want to.
This album is about intimacy and technology, yes, but it’s ultimately about escape. Bastille has toyed with some of these themes before but never explored them in depth; partnered with a new sonic landscape, they make for an exciting and unexpected progression from the band’s previous work. It’s even reflected in the album’s titling: Give Me The Future is clearly not an alliterative adjective-noun duo, breaking the tradition of Bastille’s trilogy of previous albums.
If you can get past the issues I’ve listed – if I can, you can too – GMTF is an upbeat utopia of escapism layered over strong beats and synth waves. Close your eyes, feel the music in your body and accept Bastille’s invitation to forget about your problems, if just for a moment.
*Thumbnail image from “Bastille - Thelma + Louise (Live from Future Inc. HQ)” via BASTILLEvideos on Youtube